Earlier this year we wrote an article: What Is A Budget Backpacker? In it, we recited dozens of lines that “define a backpacker”. Looking back on it now, I wonder how many of these lines actually still apply to us. We’re not as budget as we once were. We no longer sleep in a smelly room to save a buck. We no longer bargain down to the last penny and we sometimes even take tours!

So, are we even budget backpackers?


Backpack or Rolling Luggage? Definitely Backpack!

I will again quote Wikipedia:


“Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent international travel. It includes the use of a backpack or other luggage that is easily carried for long distances or long periods of time and the use of public transport & inexpensive lodging such as youth hostels.”

– Wiki definition of Backpacking

In this respect, we are certainly still backpackers, but for us, the word backpacker has too much emphasis on the “low-cost” portion of the above statement. We often hear other backpackers boast about how cheap they are.

“I’ve travelled for 4 months,  from London to Mongolia on $1000 dollars.”

– Budget Backpacker we met in Russia

By doing a trip with such a restrictive budget, are people limiting themselves and the experiences that they could have with a little bit more money? As we know, in this day and age, money is freedom. Like it or not, the more you have, the more you are able to do. We often hear of people missing out on things because it’s not in their budget.


Surely, there are activities that will be WAY over anyone’s budget, but we never want to miss out on anything that we really want to do just because we’re trying to live off of $20 / day.  If a person travels for 3 months on $1800 but only ends up affording rooms and transport with no money left for exploration, is it worth the extra time on the road? Rather than just scrape by, we’ve opted to shorten our trips a little bit, which gives ourselves a higher budget while we’re in a given country.

Do you have to be ultra-budget to be a backpacker?

Dariece and I are slowly realizing that we enjoy travelling more when we give ourselves a higher budget to play with. On our first trip, we were definitely BUDGET backpackers. We lived off of very little and scrimped by on every penny we could. We found ourselves missing out on things, tediously budgeting out every day and thinking about our limitations with money far too often.

If you are always thinking “We can’t afford that”, then one day it’ll be true.

Instead, we try think about an abundance of freedom and we’ve had better experiences for it. That’s not to say that we don’t still travel like budgeteers. Some of the best experiences on the road are on public buses. Often the best hotels are the little backpacker hangouts with a local feel and a country is almost always better seen by land than by air. Even if we won the lottery tomorrow, our travel style would remain very similar to how it is today, but we would probably mix cheap hostels with the luxury hotels of the world .


Do backpackers take tours?

This is another way our travel style has changed in recent years. We still don’t enjoy tours in the traditional sense, but we have come to realize that we can get more out of a country by hiring our own private guide for a day or so at a time.


One of our best experiences was travelling on the Pamir Highway with a private guide and driver. This gave us the opportunity to not only learn about the sites we visited, but it also gave us a valuable insight into the local way of life. A guide can answer endless questions that can really lead to a better understanding of culture. We ask our guides everything from marriage laws and human rights to government policies and personal income. They are always interested in these types of conversations and we’ve had some very long and profound chats with our chaperons.

Do backpackers have to “drop everything and travel”?

resignation-letter (1)NO!! We personally did decide to drop everything and leave our lives back in Canada, but that’s not what makes us backpackers. We’ve seen some people on short trips who really encompass the lust for adventure and culture that we feel defines a backpacker. You don’t need to quit your job to be a backpacker. We think that you can have the same mentality on a holiday, but it’s sometimes harder to leave your stresses back at home and fully immerse yourself in travel. If you can do that however, then you are a backpacker. Whether you’re on the road for 2 weeks or 2 years.

So, are we still budget backpackers?

For sure we are still backpackers, but the word “budget” holds too many limitations for us these days. We’re value-conscious travellers who are constantly looking for the best possible experience. If it’s more fun to sleep in a tent outside, we do. If the food’s better at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, we’ll eat there. If the roof of the bus is the only seat left, we’ll take it. If we’re offered a price at the market, we’ll shop around for a price that’s good for both us and the seller.

Ballin Backpackers 2
We’re Still Backpackers!

We would certainly still be in the “budget” category that is so described by guidebooks and blogs, but we no longer want to use that restrictive word. We bargain and we always opt for the cheapest price, so long as it doesn’t hinder our experiences while on the road. You only live once and we prefer to live with all of the freedom that backpacking can afford.

How do you travel? Are you a budget backpacker? Has your budget ever hindered or helped your experiences? Tell us below.

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A Profound Shift- Are We Still Budget Backpackers-

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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12 thoughts on “A Profound Shift: Are We Still Budget Backpackers?

  1. Excellent topic of conversation. I traveled most of my life without money. Yes, it was fun, I was on my 20’s, filled with energy and creativity. Some of the funniest and most creative trips I had were no doubt the ones when I had no money… however… People change and the older we get, the harder it is do do certain things and go through hardships just because of money limitations.

    I traveled all over India and Nepal for 6 months with less than 600€ in 2009. Yes, less than 600 for half a year, 2 countries, all included in that budget, even visas. Did I enjoy India? NO! Why? Because it’s a very intense country that requires a higher budget, because accommodations can be really crappy, trains can be filthy on the lower class, etc, etc, etc…

    I’m still a budget traveler for sure, but just like you say, it makes no sense go through hardships and negative experiences just to save a bit of money.

  2. I don’t care whether or not people consider me a budget backpacker. I like staying in nice places, having space and taking day tours now and then. I’ve met people who really thrive on making their money stretch as far as possible (or even almost spending nothing) while travelling, and that’s fine if that’s what they want to do. Doing out of competitiveness, though, I don’t get. Do what you like, ignore what people think of you: life if much simpler like that!

  3. Hey Yara,

    I agree with you as well. Part of it could be about age too. Our first trip, we were 23/24 so we were totally ok with crappy accommodation and lower class transport (even if it did involve rats and cockroaches in India!). Now, at the age of 29…pushing 30, we both want a bit more comfort.

    Wow, 600 euros for 6 months??? That’s outrageous! How did you stretch your money so far? I’m impressed actually 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. Happy Trails.

  4. Exactly! It shouldn’t be a competition about who can spend less…although I have to admit, that seemed to be the vibe when we were travelling around SE Asia and India during 2008/2009 – everyone was trying to spend less than their travel companions. We’ve definitely changed from that mentality and are just out to have a good time and great experiences!

    Thanks for commenting Sam 🙂

  5. I think I’ve missed some really cool opportunities in the past due to trying to keep such a low budgets. But i think its important to find the right balance and that just comes with time and experience.

    Cheers and thanks for the good read!

  6. Interesting post! Although I am a budget traveler, I can’t call myself a backpacker. I mean, I am somewhere in between. Would love to have a luxurious experiences once in a while.

  7. You’re right, it just comes with time and experience. People change as well and evolve their travel style. Like we said in the article, we were super budget on our first trip – which had its pros and cons 🙂

  8. Thanks!
    Ya, same with us. We are all about finding value for money now, rather than just the cheapest eats or sleeps.

    Thanks for the comment.

  9. Hahaha, it was the very first time in my life I ever had money to travel (before I was traveling without money), so 600€, for me was (and still is) a great budget. Only when we got to India and realized how hard and dirty everything can be and that our budget was nothing compared to everyone else. I had never been a backpacker, as backpackers seemed to be people with nice budgets who could afford hostels and restaurants. I think the concept of big/small budget differs according to where we come from. I met a few Germans in Thailand who were complaining about their tiny budget, when I asked what their “tiny budget was” they told me: “only 1000€ a month to spend”. so, 3000€ for the 3 months. I had 600€ Euros total to cover 3 full months of Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia,haha I’m just a very poor traveler 🙂

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